Movie Review: Onward, directed by Dan Scanlon (Four Stars)


Movie Review: Onward, directed by Dan Scanlon

(Four Stars)

“I am a mighty warrior.”

Here’s the trick: instead of the hero’s quest, how ‘bout a fantasy which plays by the rules of a fantasy role-playing game?

“You can’t spend your whole life playing board games.”

Great concept—semi-autobiographical, at that—great vocal talent; great art. The computer-generated scenes are incredible. Compare it with Toy Story 1.

“On a quest, you use what you’ve got, and we’ve got this”

What could go wrong? Cartoonish. Feels like a made-for-direct-release video. (Think Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar.)

“Whoever said you have to take risks in life to have an adventure?” “Apparently, you did.”

Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan (Two Stars)


Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan

(Two Stars)

Disappointing. Had the same wacked-out plot structure as Jumanji: Into the Jungle and much the same cast. Danny DeVito was a welcome addition. Lots of inside jokes and some healthy relationship vibes.

But the tone of the movie is, presumably intentional, grittier. For one thing the offensive language is much more and more noticeable.

Movie Review: Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig

(Three Stars)

“If the main character is a girl, make sure she is married by the end. Or dead. Either way.” 

Imaginative retelling of Louisa May Alcott classic nineteenth-century coming of age novel. However, the folded timeline assumes—no, depends on the viewer already knowing the story. Otherwise it’s not nearly as marvelous.

“I may not always be right. But I am never wrong.”

Nice Sets and costumes. Good music and photography. Excellent performance by Saoirse Ronan. Other than for poster presence, they wasted their money Continue reading

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, produced, co-written, and directed by J. J. Abrams (Five Stars)


Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, produced, co-written, and directed by J. J. Abrams

(Four Stars)

“Some things are stronger than blood.”

Redemption. This story, indeed the entire Star Wars trilogy of trilogies, is about redemption. What you were does not determine who you are. (Your last movie need not condemn your next.) Certain critics may demur with good cause, but for the casual viewer it’s good enough.

“You were a spice runner? “You were a stormtrooper.”

This may not be the movie George Lucas would have made, but he whiffed a few himself. It is an appropriate and satisfying conclusion to the series he started over four decades ago. Is it really five stars? No, but I rounded up. I saw the original Star Wars movie within a week of its initial release. I’m relieved as well as satisfied.

“Who’s ever ready?”

Technically overpowering. Too loud, too many special effects, too fast. Who cares? Cameos? Lots. Some surprises. The nerds will go crazy. Hopefully that’s good.

“They won by making you think you are alone.”

Hard to say too much without spoiling. Even the apparent spoilers of the previews, out of context, don’t necessarily reveal what they seem. One spoiler: long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, the end is not necessarily the end.

“The Force will be with you.” “Always.”

Movie Review: Frozen II, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Frozen II, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

(Three Stars)

“Don’t you know there’s part of me that wants to go into the unknown?”

Disney stroked the money goose and out popped this pleasant, but derivative golden egg. Competent, but not nearly as wonderful as the opening opus. Obviously aimed at the little girls who loved the first Frozen, there’s little here to appeal to their younger siblings, not to mention their parents. (At least there is no danger of anyone singing these songs ad nauseum, which is an indictment itself.)

“Because when you’re older, absolutely everything makes sense.”

The pace is frenetic. No lingering for the beauty; Little to no character development; songs and dialogue rushed through. Olaf has matured into a maxim-spouting Yoda doll. Everyone except sisters Elsa and Anna are extras. The cinematography is amazing; incredible textures.

“We’ve always feared Elsa’s powers were too much for this world. Now we must pray they are enough.”

Elsa gets all the fireworks, but Anna is the soul of the movie. With no help and no hope, she keeps doing “the next right thing.”

“You can’t just follow me into fire.” “Then don’t run into fire!”


Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold (Five Stars)


Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold

(Five Stars)

“Look out there. Out there is the perfect lap. You see it?” “I think so.” “Most people can’t.”

An amazing movie. I went to be entertained; I was moved to tears. Not about cars or racing—okay, peripherally so—but about people. People who want to excel, and people who want to control. They don’t get along in the movie, nor in real life.

“If you’re going to push a machine to its limit, you have to have sense of where that limit is.”

Amazing performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale with solid support by half a dozen others, especially Caitriona Balfe. If there’s justice in Hollywood—we know there isn’t—this crew should garner several Academy Award nominations.

“This isn’t the first time Ford Motor’s gone to war. We know how to do more than push paper. Go ahead, Carroll. Go to war.”

While Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca are portrayed sympathetically, the rest of “suits” at Ford corporate come off as a bunch a sleazy power grabbers.

“You can’t make every lap perfect, but I can try.”

Movie Review: Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons (Four Stars)


Movie Review: Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons

(Five Stars)

“God don’t mean for people to own people.”

Outstanding biopic of slave-turned-slave rescuer Harriet Tubman. Well-presented and developed. Extraordinary performance by Cynthia Erivo. Brutally honest about the treatment of slaves and the self-serving hypocrisy of slave owners.

“Find this thief and burn her at the stake like Joan of Arc.”

The reviews are so tepid because Tubman was a Christian; she prayed; God answered her prayers. America’s media mavens could hardly praise anything Christian, least of all a woman of color who took it seriously. Minor continuity errors distracted.

“Harriet, welcome to the Underground Railroad.”

Full disclosure: a friend worked on Harriet. I have no pecuniary interest in his business nor the film.

“I’m going to be free or die.”


Movie Review: Downton Abbey, directed by Michael Engler (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Michael Engler

(Three Stars)

“I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.” “Machiavelli is frequently underrated.”

Disappointing. They simultaneously try too hard (to replicate the TV series) and not hard enough (to rise above that genre). This movie is more of the same; a fix for Abbey addicts suffering withdrawal, but little to commend itself to a new audience.

“Let’s not argue.” “I never argue. I explain.”

While the setting, costumes and such retain a century-old appearance; the story/stories feel more Continue reading

Movie Review: Ad Astra, directed by James Gray (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Ad Astra, directed by James Gray

(Three Stars)

“We’re all we’ve got.”

Continues the trend of high concept, hard science fiction what-you-see-is-what-you-get movies. As opposed to space opera—mentioning no names, but Star is prominent in their titles. Special effects are well done. Sub-plots for the sake of sub-plots, which make no sense and slow the already glacial pace. Three stars is a gift.

“He could only see what was not there and missed what was right in front of him.”

Brad Pitt is well-cast as an emotionally-frozen protagonist. Tommy Lee Jones shows more acting in minutes on screen than Pitt in over an hour.

“I can rely on those closest to me and I will share their burdens and they will share mine.”

Quibbles: Several incidents pad the movie to add violence and tension but were complete non sequiturs. Pirates on the Moon? Where do they live? Where their air and water come from? Deep space research lab? Why not orbiting in a La Grange point? Baboons kill a dozen people, but the facility looks pristine. The scale of Neptune and its rings is totally wrong. Why didn’t he tether his craft?

“I will live and love.”

Movie Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain, directed by Simon Curtis (Five Stars)


Movie Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain, directed by Simon Curtis

(Five Stars)

“Your car goes where your eyes go.”

I still recommend reading the book first, but the movie was simpler and more powerful. Great story; well told. Mark Bomback’s screenplay is, if anything, better than the book. Kevin Costner was an excellent choice to voice Enzo. Brava performance by Amanda Seyfried. (Rated PG)

“A racer will never let something that has already happened affect what is happening now.”